The Garden Classroom
Is there any symbol more fitting of the natural family than the garden?
Just like the family, a well-loved garden grows and blossoms. With careful care, the plants thrive and bear fruit. A garden is a source of nourishment, a place for togetherness and even a symbol of the family’s dedication to ecology and living in harmony with the earth. Above and beyond that, gardens offer many lessons for children and the family garden can be an excellent teaching tool for all ages.
The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are a few starting points to think about when incorporating the family garden into a child’s educational experiences.
Counting: Counting games abound in the garden. How many beans shall we plant? We need carrots for dinner, so let’s pick four carrots. How many red tomatoes do you see? The garden offers so many opportunities to practice counting in a unique and memorable manner.
Colors: Gardens are a bounty of color – red peppers, white onions, purple eggplants, red raspberries, green lettuce, orange carrots, yellow tomatoes, and so on. Tending to ripe vegetables can be a fun way to reinforce color recognition.
Food identification: One of the most memorable and disturbing parts of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was his visit to a kindergarten classroom where he discovered that the students couldn’t identify common vegetables (even though they easily recognized french fries). Children should begin learning to identify basic fruits and vegetables, and there’s no better way to do so than by seeing, touching and eating real examples of them.
Tactile Experiences: Is the ground cold, or warm? Is it wet, or dry? Is the tomato soft, or hard? Young children will enjoy just digging and playing in the dirt, and there’s no reason not to encourage them to feel and explore the earth.
Wildlife: For better or worse, animals and insects are a real part of gardening. The discovery of rabbit tracks in the garden can lead to a discussion on what rabbits eat. Children seem to be naturally curious about all manner of bugs and the garden is a wonderful place to get up close and personal with a few.
From the garden to the table: Children are really never too young to begin understanding that their food doesn’t come from a box at the store or a bag at a fast food restaurant. By observing food from the seedling to plant and from garden to table, they develop a well-rounded understanding of their food.
Math: The garden is full of opportunities to work on math skills: I have five seeds in my hand, and am planting three. How many seeds are left in my hand? There are two eggplants growing right now, but I wish we had twice as many…how many would that be? With so many visual aids readily available, math’s abstract concepts become more concrete.
The value of work: Few things offer such an obvious example of the fruits of labor as a garden. The value of work, patience, and luck all come into play as the seedlings work through the soil and bear fruit. These are lessons that no textbook could ever convey, but they are so readily learned from a single season in the garden.
Science: The garden offers countless opportunities to discuss all aspects of the science behind the growing garden: the role of the soil and fertilization, the need for water and sunlight, the process of photosynthesis, etc. If you aren’t familiar with the scientific terms needed for such a lesson, fear not as there are plenty of websites with wonderful ideas on how to explore the science behind the garden.
Even a family that lacks a green thumb or any real gardening experience can benefit from a garden; Some of a garden’s biggest lessons can only be learned through trial and error. If you’ve never gardened before, there are so many resources available to get you started both as a gardener and as a teacher to your children:
- My First Garden puts gardening terms into simple and easy to understand terms.
- The Kids Garden features a wealth of articles on all kinds of gardening topics, from organic gardening to butterflies.
- Gardening with Children features some wonderful ideas for getting children of all ages involved in the garden.
- Butterfly gardening is a popular subject for young children.
- The USDA has a site featuring numerous resources that will help enrich the experience of gardening with children.
Photo Credit: Ian Britton
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